Author Archives: mike.merchant

Devastation of Monarch butterfly habitat in 2016

For all fans of monarch butterflies, a new article in American Entomologist may be of interest.  Lincoln Brower and colleagues describe the most devastating weather event for the monarchs since studies began 24 years ago. For many years it was known that monarch butterflies migrated; but not until 1975 did scientists discover that most monarchs in the eastern half of the United States migrate to a remote mountainous site in south-central Mexico. The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve was designated a World Heritage Site in 2008, and is located… Read More →

Class labeled a “bug success”

By all accounts, this year’s Master Volunteer Entomology Specialist (MVES) training was a “bug success”. The 2017 class was held Sep 18-21 at the Texas A&M AgriLife Center at Dallas, and represented the 12th time we’ve offered the course since 2003. I hosted this year’s class with lots of help from colleagues. Every year’s MVES class agenda is unique. In addition to core sessions (general entomology, insect orders, integrated pest management, and insects of trees and landscapes), we heard talks on insects that eat other insects, beekeeping, native… Read More →

And now it’s mosquitoes

Hurricane Harvey continues to leave its mark on Texas. Besides the giant cleanup, hoards of mosquitoes are now descending in many areas. The pictures are impressive. Just a couple of examples are enough to make the point. The young man in the picture here was fortunate to have chosen a sturdy shirt before venturing out last weekend. The mosquitoes in this picture are probably in the genus Psorophora, (sore ROFF oh ruh) one of our largest, most painful and aggressive biters.  Psorophora mosquitoes have some impressive chops when it comes… Read More →

Fire ants make water rescue… interesting

What’s reddish-brown, rides the water like an air mattress, changes shape like an amoeba, and stings like the devil?  If you answered fire ants floating in floodwater, you’ve probably been in Texas high water before. Floods bring all sorts of wildlife into close and sometimes uncomfortable contact with people, but none perhaps so uncomfortable as fire ants. When their mounds are flooded, fires ants survive by riding air bubbles to the surface, joining feet (tarsi) with nest mates, and floating.  The ingenious behavior that allows ants to float… Read More →

A chance to fight malaria

How would you like to save a life today? It’s not as hard as you might think. In the years since Bill Gates retired his position as CEO of MicroSoft Corporation, he and his wife Melinda have devoted tremendous effort to battling malaria.  Malaria and the mosquitoes that transmit it is the single greatest killer of humans in the world, accounting for most of the 700,000+ mosquito-caused deaths annually.  But unlike many of the other major problems in the world, solutions to the malaria epidemic are available now…. Read More →

Mealybugs on hibiscus common this summer

Mealybugs are perhaps best known as pests of indoor plants. But occasionally mealybugs strike outdoors flowers and shrubs. The striped mealybug, Ferrisia virgata Cockerell, is one such pest that has been showing up in Texas gardens this summer. Mealybugs are pests that feed on plant sap.  Most are white in color, from a white wax produced by special glands on the tops and sides of their bodies. The patterns, form and length of the waxy filaments on mealybug bodies help us identify the different species of mealybugs.  The striped… Read More →

Citrus flatid planthopper

These poor insects.  Stuck with a name that sounds pretty boring–even to an entomologist. And the scientific name is little better: Metcalfa pruinosa is a type of planthopper, a relative of the aphids, scales, whiteflies, and leafhoppers.  It belongs to the family Flatidae, hence the name flatid.  And it is found on citrus, but also lots of other plants. For some reason, these little insects seem to be pretty abundant this year, so you may be more likely to see them in your garden.  They may show up on… Read More →

Tiniest turfgrass pest

A tiny turfgrass pest appears to be on the increase according to researchers and lawn care experts. The Bermudagrass stunt mite (BSM), Eriophes cynodoniensis, is one of our tiniest arthropod pests of lawns. A relative of the mite that transmits rose rosette disease, the BSM lives inside the leaf sheaths of grass.  In home yards it is pretty common (but not often recognized by homeowners as a pest). Golf course managers, on the other hand, who are expected to consistently provide billiard table-smooth putting surfaces, consider BSM a… Read More →

Ticks and summertime

Everyone who agrees with this statement, raise your hands. “The world would be a better place without ticks!” Ha, just as I suspected! Everyone who has ever “gotten a tick” raised their hands. Everyone else has a blank look on their face. For the uninitiated, ticks are eight-legged arachnids more closely related to spiders than insects. While all tick species feed on blood, some feed on wild animals and rarely bite people.  Other ticks readily hitch rides on, and bite humans.  Ticks are most commonly encountered in fields or… Read More →

New infographic on biting and stinging pests

Every now and then we get the opportunity to get a little creative with a partner who shares some of our mission. This month our partner is the Methodist Health System, and MHS Publication Specialist, Sarah Cohen.  Sarah posed a challenge to a few of us subject matter experts, and her creative team, to come up with an infographic that would help inform you about the different kinds of pests in Texas that bite, sting and sometimes infect us. Here’s the final product and a link to the… Read More →